The Real-Life Criminals Of ‘Reservoir Dogs’

“But I mean, this tipping automatically, that’s for the birds. As far as I’m concerned they’re just doing their job.” —Mr. Pink, Reservoir Dogs

In A Nutshell

Quentin Tarantino’s debut film, a crime story called Reservoir Dogs, was remarkably authentic, containing two cast members who had spent time behind bars, including one that was featured on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted list.

The Whole Bushel

Director Quentin Tarantino is well known for his production style, marrying bizarre plots with a cool, hyper-real dialogue. His breakout effort was Reservoir Dogs, a 1992 film about an eccentric gang of robbers pulling off a diamond heist that ends in disaster. Tarantino truly went the extra mile for this film—two of the cast members were hardened, life-long criminals.

Lawrence Tierney, who played crime boss Joe Cabot, was a barroom brawler for decades, amassing a completely unenviable arrest record. In 1973, he was stabbed in one such battle, but he gave as good as he got, fighting police, cab drivers, and fellow drinkers. He served three months in jail for breaking a man’s jaw in 1948. The day his mother killed herself, he broke down a woman’s door and assaulted her, and he was tied to another woman who threw herself from the window of her New York apartment.

On the set, he was equally intense, terrorizing his colleagues well into his 70s, including well-publicized incidents while guest starring on Seinfeld and The Simpsons. While shooting Reservoir Dogs, he skirmished with other cast members, reportedly nearly coming to blows with Tarantino.

Article Continued Below

Tierney was bad news, but he was little more than a dime store hoodlum compared to Eddie Bunker, who played Mr. Blue. Bunker grew up a juvenile delinquent, spending time in various institutions, and becoming the youngest-ever inmate at California’s San Quentin Prison in 1951. He would go on to a criminal career straight out of the movies he appeared in, robbing banks and dealing drugs. He’d spend 18 years of his life behind bars for various stints, though he always tried his level best to avoid that fate—once escaping from a prison and another time faking being mentally ill so he would be sent to a hospital instead. He was so notorious that he spent time on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted list in the early 1970s. In 1975, he left jail for the last time, and for the remainder of his life, would earn his money legitimately, as an actor and published author.

Show Me The Proof

The Big Leak: An Uneasy Evening with the Noir Legend
Born Under A Bad Sign – The Life of Edward Bunker

Looking for our newsletter? Subscribe here!